In his first appearance in the area in several years, Dylan LeBlanc and his band recently played a set at the Songbyrd Music House.
A second-generation musician born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Dylan LeBlanc is the son of James LeBlanc, a session player at the legendary Muscle Shoals Studios. His parents divorced when he was an infant, and he lived with his mother, who cleaned houses, and his two siblings in Blanchard, a small town outside of Shreveport, until the age of nine. When he was 10, he moved to Muscle Shoals with his father, who was pursuing his dream of becoming a country music songwriter.
Dylan grew up watching his father play in clubs and bars, and in Muscle Shoals, he got to watch the recording sessions for the songs his father wrote. When he was 14, he moved back to Shreveport to live with his grandmother and attend high school, but the lure of the musical life had already sunk its hooks into him. He began performing at the age of 15, and he joined an alternative rock band, Jimmy Sad Eyes Blue. During this time, he was encouraged to write his own music by a local artist, Daniel Goodwill.
Unfortunately, like many musicians, LeBlanc developed a substance abuse problem and was forced to attend rehab while still in his teens. Following his stint there, he decided to leave school and pursue a full-time career as a musician. Before striking out on his own, LeBlanc co-founded the band Abraham, with whom he made his first recordings at Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals. He left the band when he was 19, at which point he had developed a significant amount of his own material, and his first solo album, Pauper’s Field, was released by Rough Trade in 2010.
Pauper’s Field was well-received by critics and led to slots opening for artists and bands like Lucinda Williams, The Civil Wars, Laura Marling, and Calexico. His second album, Cast the Same Old Shadow, led to more prestigious opening engagements: Bruce Springsteen, First Aid Kit, the Alabama Shakes, and the Drive-By Truckers.
Although he was opening for major artists, LeBlanc found limited success as a headlining act. On Jan. 23, he told the audience at Songbyrd Music House, “It may not look like much, but this is the most tickets I’ve ever sold in DC. Thanks for helping me break the curse.” Now in his early 30s and a father, LeBlanc is sober, and his work is more focused than it’s ever been.
The result of this focus is evident on his latest record, the partly autobiographical concept album Coyote, released last October on ATO Records. Coyote has a score of 84 on the review aggregation site Metacritic, indicating “universal acclaim.” The narrative of the album follows the titular Coyote as he gets caught up with the criminal underworld in Mexico and is haunted by his past life. While the album delves into some dark territory, it is ultimately a story of redemption, mirroring LeBlanc’s own journey.
Stream Coyote by Dylan LeBlanc on Spotify:
LeBlanc’s music falls into the space between country and rock that is Americana. In his Songbyrd set, he played with a standard rock setup — two guitars, bass, and drums, no banjo, fiddle, mandolin, or pedal steel — and they played loud. A good comparison for the sound would be the Drive-By Truckers, who also live in the overlap of alt-country and hard, piledriving rock ‘n’ roll. This was, easily, the loudest show I’ve seen at the Songbyrd. Like the Truckers, Dylan focused on playing the music, spending little time on stage banter. One point of difference: the Truckers usually play two-and-a-half hour marathons, whereas LeBlanc and his band kept it to a tight 90 minutes, including their encore.
The set was heavy on tunes from Coyote, beginning with “Telluride,” which takes its name from the city in Colorado that hosts one of the world’s premier bluegrass festivals. Next up was “Wicked Kind,” for which Dylan has released a lyric video. Later, he played “Dark Waters” and “Hate,” and he closed the set with the title track. He introduced “Stranger Things” saying “I write many dark songs. I wrote one with a message of hope.” During the set, he also encouraged the audience to “feel free to let your freak flag fly.”
In addition to his new material, LeBlanc and his played several favorites from his back catalogue: “Bang Bang Bang,” “Beyond the Veil,” “If The Creek Don’t Rise,” “Easy Way Out,” and “Lone Rider.” When the band came back for their encore, they played “Cautionary Tale,” the title track of his third album, from 2016. After “Cautionary Tale,” they played a couple more tunes and finished up for the night.
Before LeBlanc took the stage, Texas singer-songwriter Jarrod Dickenson played a 30-minute opening set. Throughout the set, he was accompanied on vocals by his wife, Claire. Dickenson wasn’t shy about making his opinions known: he introduced one song as about “a certain Cheeto-colored psychopath” who used to reside in DC and added, “May he rot in a prison cell.” His set also included “Faint of Heart” and “Prefer to Lose.” He finished his set with “Long, Hard Look,” which is “mostly about being to look yourself in the mirror and knowing you’re doing your best to treat yourself and the people around you with respect and integrity.”
I’ve been following Dylan LeBlanc since at least 2016, and it’s great to see the progress he’s made, artistically and personally. I’ve always liked his songs, but with age has come maturity, and he’s only getting better. I can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeve with his next music, and I look forward to seeing him the next time he’s in town.